Lions, Jaguars send 7 to state mat tourney


 Jackson Memorial High School’s Dallas Winston (black singlet), seen here in action vs. Brick Memorial’s Anthony Miller during the Central Jersey Group IV team tournament on Feb. 10, will be competing in the NJSIAA state tournament in Atlantic City this weekend.  JEFF GRANIT Jackson Memorial High School’s Dallas Winston (black singlet), seen here in action vs. Brick Memorial’s Anthony Miller during the Central Jersey Group IV team tournament on Feb. 10, will be competing in the NJSIAA state tournament in Atlantic City this weekend. JEFF GRANIT A s expected, Dallas Winston of Jackson Memorial High School and Nick Zak of Jackson Liberty High School secured return trips to the NJSIAA state tournament, to be held March 2-4 at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

Winston, who was a state runner-up in 2011, and Zak won Region VI crowns on Feb. 24 at the Pine Belt Arena in Toms River to punch their tickets to the state tournament.

What was unexpected is that five other wrestlers from Jackson’s two high schools will be joining Winston and Zak in Atlantic City.

“Imagine if it was one high school,” Jackson Memorial coach Aaron Gottesman said. “You can say the same thing for other towns that split up for more schools. like Toms River, but think what we could have had [in Jackson]. I know we could have been the No. 1 team in the state in all of the last five years [since Jackson Liberty opened].”

Four of the seven wrestlers from Jackson who are heading to Atlantic City are from Jackson Liberty. A total of 11 Jackson wrestlers advanced to Region VI out of District 21 — six from Jackson Memorial and five from Jackson Liberty, which finished second and third, respectively, in the team standings at the district tournament on Feb. 17-18.

That was Jackson Liberty’s best finish ever in the district tournament after the Lions set a school record for dual-meet wins during the regular season with 18. Yet, Jackson Liberty coach Mike Eddy admitted he was a bit surprised to be sending four grapplers to Atlantic City.

“No, I didn’t expect us to get four qualifiers [for the state tournament], but when you get in a tournament, anything can happen,” Eddy said. “You wrestle one match at a time. There always are upsets.”

Winston, a senior who carried the No. 1 seed and a 31-3 record into the Region VI tournament, secured his return to the state tournament with a 10-1 major decision over Brick Memorial’s Anthony Miller in the 182-pound class.

Winston had a tougher time in the region semifinals, winning a 1-0 thriller over Matawan Regional junior Glen Cross. Winston has a 106-13 career record. He was second in the state at 189 pounds in 2011.

At 170 pounds, Zak did not give up a point as the No. 1 seed in the region, but his opponents played it safe and stalled out the matches as Zak won, 3-0, 1-0, and 3-0, to become Jackson Liberty’s first Region VI champion. He is 37-2 in 2011-12 and now has 87 career wins.

“He’s hard to score on, and when he gets going, he scored a lot of points,” Eddy said of Zak. “Last year he didn’t win any tournaments. This year he won every tournament. He was 2-2 in the state tournament last year and this year he has as good a chance as anyone to place.”

“I’m used to people doing that to me,” Zak said of his opponents’ tactics of not taking chances against him that could land them on their back. “But in [the state tournament], everybody’s coming after you to get a place [on the medal stand]. I’ll wrestle the way I always do and hope that things work out— to stay aggressive and not make stupid mistakes.”

Brian Hamann, a Jackson Memorial junior, rolled to a spot in the state tournament at 125 pounds by outscoring his three Region VI opponents, 23-3, including a 10-1 championship victory over Central Regional’s Jalen Ramos to hike his record to 30-3.

Hamann’s victory raised Jackson Memorial’s total to 50 region champions since the Jaguars’ storied wrestling program began in 1966.

Jackson Memorial’s Brad Royle, a No. 1 seed, dropped a 3-1 overtime decision to No. 2 seed Richard Lewis of Toms River East in the 132-pound Region VI championship bout. Royle, a senior, is 78-30 on his career as he heads to Atlantic City.

Gottesman said having the experience of wrestling in front of a huge crowd against top competition has helped Winston and Zak prepare for this year’s state tournament.

“They are all wrestling extremely well,” the Jaguars’ coach said. “It’s the best they can wrestle. Are they at a peak? We have to see over a period of time from here if they can keep it going, but they are all wrestling extremely well.”

From Jackson Liberty, Brandon Kosheff (138) and the Russo brothers, freshmen Matt (113) and Mike (106), also advanced to the state tournament.

Kosheff’s victory in the third-place consolation bout at the Region VI tournament made him the second wrestler in the program’s young history to score 100 career victories; the other was Nick Zak’s brother, Chris.

Region VI runner-up Mike Russo (38-2 at 106 pounds) joins brother Matt (34-7), the third-place finisher in the region who was the No. 8 seed, another unexpected accomplishment at this stage.

Mike Russo, the No. 2 seed, fell to No. 1 seed Joe Ghione of Brick Memorial, 7-3, in the Region VI final. Russo reached the finals with a 7-5 decision over Christian Brothers Academy freshman Grant Brown.

After losing in the quarterfinals, 4-0, to No. 1 seed Kevin Corrigan of Toms River South, Matt Russo reeled off three straight victories, avenging two regular-season losses in the wrestlebacks before pinning Freehold Township’s Nick DePierro in 2:29.

“He saw that his brother had already qualified [for the state tournament] and that gave him more motivation,” Eddy said. “He wrestled tough, like no one could beat him.”

As for Kosheff, the only senior of note on the young Jackson Liberty team had a wild ride before nailing down third place at 138 pounds, winning a 9-0 decision over Southern Regional’s Jake Campana.

Zak said having three teammates with him in Atlantic City this weekend will be better than last year when he was the lone state tournament qualifier from Jackson Liberty.

“We get a lot of support from each other,” Zak said. “I’m feeling good about our chances.”

Gottesman said the key for his and any other wrestlers in the state tournament is the mental approach.

“It’s who is mentally ready,” he said. “It’s blocking everything out.”

Meanwhile, four other wrestlers fell short of earning a ticket to the state tournament — Jackson Memorial junior Spencer Young (25-4 at 138), sophomore Ken Bradley (25-5 at 195) and senior Mike Lopez (18-9 at 220), and Jackson Liberty sophomore T.J. Liquori (32-7 at 152).

Young lost his opener, 8-5, to Campana. Bradley in the semifinals faced Christian Brothers Academy’s Hayden Hrymack and was pinned in 5:15 and then lost a 3-1 decision in the wrestlebacks. Lopez lost his opener, 3-2, to Matawan Regional’s Frances Palumbo and was pinned by Rumson-Fair Haven’s Taylor Avino in the wrestlebacks.